Hernán Bernardello

Cahill, Davis, Gonçalves among big fitness questions going into MLS weekend

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The knocks are starting to pile up for Major League Soccer teams entering their eighth weekend of the season, but for four teams in particular, isolated injuries loom large. For Houston, Montréal, New England, and New York, those fitness issues could mean the absence of game-defining talents – players whose include could reverse prolonged slumps or address matchup problems second string players will otherwise have to solve.

Here’s a quick look at the absences that could influence this weekend’s results:

Brad Davis, Houston Dynamo – Davis left at halftime of Houston’s Apr. 5 visit from Dallas having assisted on Ricardo Clark’s goal four minutes earlier. The Dynamo haven’t scored since, a streak that reached 319 minutes after their mid-week loss at New York. Returning home after a three-game road trip, Houston will hope to take advantage of the winless Timbers, but if a right ankle injury keeps the Dynamo captain out of the 18, Dom Kinnear’s team may not be able to exploit that suspect Portland defense.

José Gonçalves, New England Revolution – Jay Heaps’ team missed the 2013 Defender of the Year in Chicago, where Andrew Farrell had trouble containing Quincy Amarikwa. On Saturday, New England welcomes Sporting Kansas City to Gillette, with the tenacity of Dom Dwyer and service of Graham Zusi sure to give its central pairing problems. If Gonçalves’s right quadriceps injury keeps him sidelined for a second straight week (and his return is doubtful), A.J. Soares will have to take command on the myriad of passes Zusi and Sal Zizzo are destined to fire behind the Revolution defense.

Kelyn Rowe, New England Revolution – Revs fans don’t need to be reminded that their most creative player’s been missing, but it’s something that gets overlooked when you’re looking at the team from a distance. For example, I didn’t even mention the former Bruin in this weekend’s match reaction. In his absence, Daigo Kobayashi has been fine, and Lee Nguyen’s stepped up, but New England needs to get their puppeteer back in the lineup. Like Gonçalves, he’s unlikely play against Sporting.

Hernan Bernardello, Montréal Impact – Frank Klopas’s winless Impact need all the help they can get, and while their Argentine Designated Player’s yet to have a major impact make a major contribution this season, the ideal version of this team has Bernardello playing a decisive role. At this point, Montréal may need an ideal performance to break into the win column. Right now, Bernardello’s return is questionable.

Tim Cahill, New York Red Bulls – Columbus has a one of the more effective central defense pairings in Major League Soccer, but one thing neither Michael Parkhurst nor Giancarlo Gonzalez offer is size. Get Lloyd Sam behind Waylon Francis, have him hit early crosses for Cahill, and the Red Bulls have a formula for knocking off the Crew. Of everybody on this list, Cahill is most likely to see action on Saturday, though it’s unclear whether he’ll return in midfield or at the expense of Bradley Wright-Phillips.

Report: Toronto FC to offload Matias Laba to solve DP problem; hoping for loan partner

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Young Argentine midfielder Matias Laba was a bright spot in another dark year for Toronto FC during his first year with the club in 2013, but brightened hopes for the club are finding no room for the 22-year-old, and The Toronto Sun reports he’ll be moved by March 1.

TFC coach Ryan Nelsen did not want to lose the youngster, but has little choice; With the additions of Michael Bradley, Gilberto and Jermain Defoe, the Reds are up against the limit on Designated Players.

Could we see another inter-MLS loan? Surely there are plenty of teams searching for a versatile midfielder who’s proven he can move at the MLS level. Laba started 16 matches for TFC, scoring once, after moving to MLS from Argentinos Juniors of Argentina’s top flight in late April 2013.

Perhaps Montreal could be a destination. Matteo Ferrari may not mind the new blood, but is Laba’s game too similar to fellow Argentine DP Hernan Bernardello?

Additionally, with today’s reported addition of Brazilian No.1 goalkeeper Julio Cesar from Queens Park Rangers, TFC made room on the roster by parting ways with left back Jonas Elmer.

Houston Dynamo 3-0 Montreal Impact: Quick start lifts Houston to next round (video)

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The Houston Dynamo rode its early dominance to an easy 2-0 victory over the Montreal Impact on Thursday. Houston advanced to the Major League Soccer Eastern Conference semifinals and will play two legs against the New York Red Bulls.

Dynamo midfielder Ricardo Clark pressed high often, including on the first goal of the game. Forward Will Bruin dropped deep to find the ball and played a one-two combination with Clark, whose skillful back-heel pass set Bruin up with an easy finish in the 16th minute.

Houston’s impressive streak when scoring first continued, as the Dynamo has not lost in 15 matches when going up a goal in 2013.

Ten minutes later, the result was sealed. Impact midfielder Hernán Bernardello took down Oscar Boniek García just inside the penalty area despite support from two other defenders, and García finished what he started to give his team a two-goal advantage.

source: AP
Oscar Boniek García slots home his penalty to give the Houston Dynamo a 2-0 lead over the Montreal Impact on Thursday. (Photo: Bob Levey/AP)

The Impact could not get much offensive momentum, even though Houston dropped off slightly in the second half. Forward Marco Di Vaio was caught offside four times, and he received little attacking support when he found the ball in a legal position.

His best chance came in the 61st minute, when Tally Hall dove to his right to parry wide Di Vaio’s shot from outside the penalty area.

Houston head coach Dominic Kinnear’s playoff train kept rolling with the result. In 2012, the Dynamo finished in fifth place in the Eastern Conference and advanced all the way to the MLS Cup final before falling to the Los Angeles Galaxy. Houston proved last year, and look to do so again, that playing the extra game is not an insurmountable task for playoff success.

Kinnear’s opposite number, Marco Schällibaum, gambled by starting Nelson Rivas at center back after he saw no action during the regular season. Like much of what Montreal did on Thursday, it didn’t pay off, as Rivas was sent off after two similar fouls, getting his hands in Giles Barnes’ face in the 35th minute and jumping with a high elbow on Will Bruin in the 70th.

Bruin added the final goal of the game soon after Rivas left the field. He outran Matteo Ferrari to a loose ball and cut inside on Jeb Brovsky before lifting an easy shot into the open net.

The Impact wasn’t done getting red cards, though. Substitute Andrés Romero received one after he kicked out at Kofi Sarkodie on the ground after the whistle in the 88th minute, and Di Vaio received one in the aftermath for putting his hand on Corey Ashe’s neck-and-face area twice.

Houston hosts the Red Bulls in the first leg of their series on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, broadcast on NBC).

Lineups:

Houston Dynamo (4-4-2): Tally Hall — Corey Ashe, Eric Brunner, Bobby Boswell, Kofi Sarkodie — Brad Davis (Andrew Driver, 82), Warren Creavalle, Ricardo Clark, Oscar Boniek García — Will Bruin (Cam Weaver, 79), Giles Barnes (Omar Cummings, 79)

Unused substitutes: Tyler Deric — Mike Chabala, Servando Carrasco, Alexander López

Montreal Impact (4-2-3-1): Troy Perkins — Jeb Brovsky, Nelson Rivas, Matteo Ferrari, Hassoun Camara — Hernán Bernardello, Collen Warner (Felipe Martins, 61) — Andrea Pisanu (Andrés Romero, 54), Andrew Wenger (Daniele Paponi, 61), Justin Mapp — Marco Di Vaio

Unused substitutes: Evan Bush — Davy Arnaud, Patrice Bernier, Wandrille Lefevre

Montreal Impact sign Hernán Bernardello as DP to plug emergent defensive holes

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After the Montreal Impact conceded 12 goals in the last five games, including a 4-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls that dropped it out of first place, the club announced a defensive reinforcement on Tuesday in Hernán Bernardello.

The 26-year-old Argentine defensive midfielder, who made over 100 appearances in both the Primera División and Spain’s La Liga, signed a one-year deal with a club option for two further seasons. Pending receipt of his international transfer certificate, Bernardello should be available on Saturday against Sporting Kansas City.

On a conference call with reporters, Impact sporting director Nick De Santis didn’t seem panicked about the defensive situation, but he did seem to place some blame on Montreal’s defense rather than its attack for its recent poor form.

“We’ve always created enough chances to say that we could have probably scored one or two goals or even three goals. We have enough offensive qualities to make plays,” he said. “On the defensive end … it’s now mid-season, and it’s getting hotter, and we have to be aware of that. I strongly believe that another center midfielder at Hernán’s level and his age would bring a lot to the team. It’s going to let the team breathe a lot.”

De Santis said Bernardello would provide the Impact with flexibility to play with either one holding midfielder, in its preferred 4-1-4-1 formation, or two. He highlighted Bernardello’s ability to shield the back four and allow other players, such as his presumed partner at the position, Patrice Bernier, to get forward more often.

(More: Montréal switches back to their spring set-up, stops the flood of goals)

He also expects Bernardello to fit in well with the team, even though he has a somewhat colorful past. When he left Spanish team Almería to return to Argentina to Colón de Santa Fe, the Andalusians sued him for breach of contract.

The club claimed that he signed a contract extension, and because he failed to turn up for preseason training, he owed the club a €30 million termination fee. Almería believed it had him under contract until 2015, not only until 2012.

In the end, he played the 2012-13 season with Colón, and De Santis pleaded ignorance to the charges leveled against his new player:

I don’t even know what you’re talking about, but if there were problems before, I have no idea of them. I know that the player is with us right now, and we’re extremely happy to have him. … Trust me, we did a lot of homework on the player, on his personality, on his attitude, will he fit in within the group. … He’s a good kid. He’s committed. He’s responsible. He has a big motivation to play in MLS and to play for Montreal, and I think he’s going to fit in very well with the group going forward.

The circumstances under which Bernardello signed with the Impact are also unusual, as his contract ran out after his only season at Colón. As a result, there was no transfer fee, and De Santis said the player “basically belongs to an investor’s group.”

No matter the strange context, if Bernardello can shore up a defense that has given up nearly half of its season’s goals in the last handful of matches, the deal will be considered worthwhile.